Higher Learning Commission


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Comprehensive Evaluation

HLC conducts comprehensive evaluations of member institutions to confirm that the institution continues to meet the Criteria for Accreditation, is pursuing institutional improvement and complies with requirements sets by the U.S. Department of Education. Evaluations are conducted by teams peer reviewers.

For accredited institutions, comprehensive evaluations occur at different points along each pathway for reaffirmation of accrediation:

  • Standard Pathway: Year 4 and Year 10
  • AQIP Pathway: Year 8 (a Comprehensive Quality Review may be conducted in Year 4)
  • Open Pathway: Year 10 (an Assurance Review is conducted in Year 4)

The evaluation that occurs in the final year of each pathway cycle – Year 10 for Open and Standard Pathways and Year 8 for the AQIP Pathway – includes an action regarding the institution’s reaffirmation of accreditation.

Institutions that have been placed on Probation also undergo comprehensive evaluations to determine if the areas of concern that led to the sanction have been ameliorated.


Substantive Requirements for Reaffirmation of Accreditation – INST.C.10.010

Process Requirements for Each Pathway – INST.C.10.020

Process Requirements Leading to Commission Action for Reaffirmation – INST.C.10.030

Probation – INST.E.20.010

Components of a Comprehensive Evaluation

For all institutions, a comprehensive evaluation includes the following components:

Review of Institutional Compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation

In each pathway, institutions submit a report and materials to demonstrate that they are in compliance with HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. The team of peer reviewers conducting the comprehensive evaluation reviews these materials in preparation for an on-site visit. In the Standard and Open Pathways, this process is called the Assurance Review; in the AQIP Pathway, this process is the Comprehensive Quality Review.

Assurance Review: Standard and Open Pathways

As part of the Assurance Review, the institution submits an Assurance Argument, along with materials of evidence (called an Evidence File), explaining how the institution complies with each Criterion and Core Component. The institution creates the Assurance Argument and Evidence File in HLC’s Assurance System. The peer review team also uses the Assurance System to conduct its review of the materials.

Note: Institutions on the Standard Pathway create an exanded Assurance Argument, in which they also address their improvement efforts in relation to the Criteria for Accreditation. Institutions on the Open Pathway demonstrate their institutional improvement efforts through the Quality Initiative process.

Comprehensive Quality Review: AQIP Pathway

In the Comprehensive Quality Review process, the institution submits a Quality Highlights Report to supplement its Year 7 Systems Portfolio. The report responds to findings from its Year 7 Systems Appraisal and describes other improvements that have been made since the submission of its portfolio. The peer review team reviews the Quality Highlights Report and Year 7 Systems Portfolio and Appraisal.

Federal Compliance Review

Institutions must submit a Federal Compliance Filing demonstrating that they are meeting their Title IV program responsibility, as well as complying with the expectations of specific regulations set by the U.S. Department of Education. These requirements include completing the third-party comment process, inviting the public to send written comments to HLC prior to the on-site visit. Compliance with these federal requirements is necessary for the institutions to be eligible for federal financial aid. HLC is required to conduct this review as a federally recognized accrediting agency.

Student Opinion Survey

HLC conducts an online survey of the institution’s student body two months prior to the on-site peer review visit. The survey is intended to give students an opportunity to participate in the evaluation process, and to help identify questions for the peer reviewers to ask while on site.

On-Site Peer Review Visit

On-site visits occur after the peer review team has reviewed the institutional report and student survey results. The team works with the institution to create the agenda for the visit, which typically includes meetings with the institution’s leadership and board, as well as open forums with faculty, staff and students. For institutions on the Standard and Open Pathways, visits typically last 1 1/2 days, and the on-site visit for institutions on the AQIP Pathway typically lasts two days. In all cases, the team will remain in the area for an additional day of deliberations after the visit.

Multi-campus Visit

A multi-campus visit is included as part of the comprehensive evaluation for institutions with multiple branch campuses. Peer reviewers will visit a sampling of the institution’s branch campuses and inform the team conducting the comprehensive evaluation as to the quality of the branch campuses.

Embedded Change Requests

Institutions may include change requests in the evaluation if the requests require a visit to the institution. If a change request does not require a visit, it is evaluated separately through HLC’s change process.

Decision Making

The team drafts its report within four to six weeks following the visit. The institution may review the report and the team’s recommendations for errors of fact before the team submits its final report to HLC. The institution may also submit a response to the team report. The report and institutional response are then sent to the Institutional Actions Council for review and action.


Pathways for Reaffirmation of Accreditation

Choosing a Pathway

Standard Pathway

AQIP Pathway

Open Pathway


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